[enviro-vlc] Laos dams threaten homes, incomes and fish, say campaigners [Reuters, 3.10.08]
vern.weitzel at gmail.com
Sat Oct 4 14:44:41 EST 2008
Subject: [Lancang-Mekong] Laos dams threaten homes, incomes and fish,
say campaigners [Reuters, 3.10.08]
Date: Sat, 04 Oct 2008 11:15:07 +0700
From: Carl Middleton <carl at internationalrivers.org>
Reply-To: carl at internationalrivers.org
To: Lancang-Mekong at googlegroups.com
Laos dams threaten homes, incomes and fish, say campaigners
Reuters, 03 Oct 2008 15:18:00 GMT
River-rich Laos is known as much for its laid-back culture as its lush
scenery. But the landlocked country plans to jumpstart its sleepy
image with an ambitious - and controversial - plan to become the
"battery of Southeast Asia", harnessing power from the mighty Mekong
river and its tributaries.
Six big hydropower dams are already in operation, seven are under
construction, 12 more are in the pipeline and development deals are
pending for another 35, according to a recent report from advocacy
group International Rivers (IR).
IR warns hundreds of thousands of Lao villagers risk losing their
livelihoods, land and other resources due to the mega-projects.
Already, tens of thousands have been forcibly relocated.
"The projects that have been built to date have been costly to the
people," said IR Mekong programme coordinator Carl Middleton. "There
needs to be a stronger planning process as well as genuine public
participation before projects are approved."
Critics of the costly dams argue they generate limited employment
opportunities, and are not the best way of promoting growth and
development at the local level.
But the communist government regards its water resources as a major
route out of poverty - a view supported by international development
In a country of fewer than six million inhabitants, which ranks among
the poorest in the region, the grand hydropower plan is expected to
bring in revenues of billions of dollars in the coming decades.
The World Bank - a key backer of the 1,070-megawatt Nam Theun 2 (NT2)
hydropower project in central Laos - told AlertNet it was working to
strengthen the government's capacity to manage its energy programme in
a sustainable and transparent way.
The bank's Lao country manager, Patchamuthu Illangovan, said, "If
Laos' resources are sustainably managed for the betterment of its
people, then Lao people have a lot to gain."
But the IR report says that even NT2 - touted as a model of
sustainable development and slated to start operating next year - has
experienced resettlement and compensation problems.
The advocacy group is calling for a moratorium on new projects in Laos
until existing impacts have been addressed and processes are improved.
Developer Nam Theun 2 Power Company refutes the report's claims and
says comments from disgruntled villagers are unsubstantiated because
project representatives were not present at interviews.
The World Bank admits there have been difficulties but says targets
have been met. It argues that NT2 has set a precedent, paving the way
for new government structures and policies to tackle environmental
impacts and sustainability.
"The challenge is...to ensure that other hydropower projects developed
in the country can achieve high social and environmental standards,"
LET THEM EAT ELECTRICITY
But critics say dam projects implemented after NT2 have showed a
decline in standards.
According to the IR report, road construction began before
environmental assessments were completed in some cases, while in
others affected villagers were not properly informed.
IR says planned dams also threaten fishing and fish migration
The Mekong river supports one of the world's most diverse fisheries,
rivalled only by the Amazon and the Congo, with an estimated
commercial value of around $2 billion, according to 2005 figures from
the Mekong River Commission.
IR is particularly concerned about the Don Sahong dam, which will be
built in the stunning 4000 islands area in the south - a key fishing
region that has long been an attractive destination for intrepid
"For only 360 megawatts of electricity, Don Sahong would devastate
fisheries that are central to people's food security and the wider
economy, and undermine the region's growing tourism potential," said
IR's Middleton. "It is a very high impact project that shouldn't go
The report includes stories from local fishermen who met with the
project developer. One said the company had offered to exchange the
large wing traps used to catch fish for free electricity.
"The problem is that we eat fish, not electricity," he said.
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